The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g. carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
A Rapid and Efficient Method for Assessing Pathogenicity of Ustilago maydis on Maize and Teosinte Lines
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Maize is a major cereal crop worldwide. However, susceptibility to biotrophic pathogens is the primary constraint to increasing productivity. U. maydis
is a biotrophic fungal pathogen and the causal agent of corn smut on maize. This disease is responsible for significant yield losses of approximately $1.0 billion annually in the U.S.1
Several methods including crop rotation, fungicide application and seed treatments are currently used to control corn smut2
. However, host resistance is the only practical method for managing corn smut. Identification of crop plants including maize, wheat, and rice that are resistant to various biotrophic pathogens has significantly decreased yield losses annually3-5
. Therefore, the use of a pathogen inoculation method that efficiently and reproducibly delivers the pathogen in between the plant leaves, would facilitate the rapid identification of maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
. As, a first step toward indentifying maize lines that are resistant to U. maydis
, a needle injection inoculation method and a resistance reaction screening method was utilized to inoculate maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines with a U. maydis
strain and to select resistant plants.
Maize, teosinte and maize x teosinte introgression lines, consisting of about 700 plants, were planted, inoculated with a strain of U. maydis
, and screened for resistance. The inoculation and screening methods successfully identified three teosinte lines resistant to U. maydis
. Here a detailed needle injection inoculation and resistance reaction screening protocol for maize, teosinte, and maize x teosinte introgression lines is presented. This study demonstrates that needle injection inoculation is an invaluable tool in agriculture that can efficiently deliver U. maydis
in between the plant leaves and has provided plant lines that are resistant to U. maydis
that can now be combined and tested in breeding programs for improved disease resistance.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, Bacterial Infections, Signs and Symptoms, Eukaryota, Plant Physiological Phenomena, Ustilago maydis, needle injection inoculation, disease rating scale, plant-pathogen interactions
Design and Operation of a Continuous 13C and 15N Labeling Chamber for Uniform or Differential, Metabolic and Structural, Plant Isotope Labeling
Institutions: Colorado State University, USDA-ARS, Colorado State University.
Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2
fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13
C with 15
O or 2
H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4
. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e
. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7
. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13
C and 15
N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13
C and 15
N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii
Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13
C and 6.7 atom%15
N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13
C and 0.56 atom%15
N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2
concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13
atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 83, 13C, 15N, plant, stable isotope labeling, Andropogon gerardii, metabolic compounds, structural compounds, hot water extraction
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1
) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi
construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
A Simple and Rapid Protocol for Measuring Neutral Lipids in Algal Cells Using Fluorescence
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Calgary.
Algae are considered excellent candidates for renewable fuel sources due to their natural lipid storage capabilities. Robust monitoring of algal fermentation processes and screening for new oil-rich strains requires a fast and reliable protocol for determination of intracellular lipid content. Current practices rely largely on gravimetric methods to determine oil content, techniques developed decades ago that are time consuming and require large sample volumes. In this paper, Nile Red, a fluorescent dye that has been used to identify the presence of lipid bodies in numerous types of organisms, is incorporated into a simple, fast, and reliable protocol for measuring the neutral lipid content of Auxenochlorella protothecoides
, a green alga. The method uses ethanol, a relatively mild solvent, to permeabilize the cell membrane before staining and a 96 well micro-plate to increase sample capacity during fluorescence intensity measurements. It has been designed with the specific application of monitoring bioprocess performance. Previously dried samples or live samples from a growing culture can be used in the assay.
Chemistry, Issue 87, engineering (general), microbiology, bioengineering (general), Eukaryota Algae, Nile Red, Fluorescence, Oil Content, Oil Extraction, Oil Quantification, Neutral Lipids, Optical Microscope, biomass
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Evaluation of Integrated Anaerobic Digestion and Hydrothermal Carbonization for Bioenergy Production
Institutions: Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering.
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant yet underutilized renewable energy resources. Both anaerobic digestion (AD) and hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) are promising technologies for bioenergy production from biomass in terms of biogas and HTC biochar, respectively. In this study, the combination of AD and HTC is proposed to increase overall bioenergy production. Wheat straw was anaerobically digested in a novel upflow anaerobic solid state reactor (UASS) in both mesophilic (37 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) conditions. Wet digested from thermophilic AD was hydrothermally carbonized at 230 °C for 6 hr for HTC biochar production. At thermophilic temperature, the UASS system yields an average of 165 LCH4
(VS: volatile solids) and 121 L CH4
at mesophilic AD over the continuous operation of 200 days. Meanwhile, 43.4 g of HTC biochar with 29.6 MJ/kgdry_biochar
was obtained from HTC of 1 kg digestate (dry basis) from mesophilic AD. The combination of AD and HTC, in this particular set of experiment yield 13.2 MJ of energy per 1 kg of dry wheat straw, which is at least 20% higher than HTC alone and 60.2% higher than AD only.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, Biomethane, Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC), Calorific Value, Lignocellulosic Biomass, UASS, Anaerobic Digestion
Efficient Agroinfiltration of Plants for High-level Transient Expression of Recombinant Proteins
Institutions: Arizona State University .
Mammalian cell culture is the major platform for commercial production of human vaccines and therapeutic proteins. However, it cannot meet the increasing worldwide demand for pharmaceuticals due to its limited scalability and high cost. Plants have shown to be one of the most promising alternative pharmaceutical production platforms that are robust, scalable, low-cost and safe. The recent development of virus-based vectors has allowed rapid and high-level transient expression of recombinant proteins in plants. To further optimize the utility of the transient expression system, we demonstrate a simple, efficient and scalable methodology to introduce target-gene containing Agrobacterium
into plant tissue in this study. Our results indicate that agroinfiltration with both syringe and vacuum methods have resulted in the efficient introduction of Agrobacterium
into leaves and robust production of two fluorescent proteins; GFP and DsRed. Furthermore, we demonstrate the unique advantages offered by both methods. Syringe infiltration is simple and does not need expensive equipment. It also allows the flexibility to either infiltrate the entire leave with one target gene, or to introduce genes of multiple targets on one leaf. Thus, it can be used for laboratory scale expression of recombinant proteins as well as for comparing different proteins or vectors for yield or expression kinetics. The simplicity of syringe infiltration also suggests its utility in high school and college education for the subject of biotechnology. In contrast, vacuum infiltration is more robust and can be scaled-up for commercial manufacture of pharmaceutical proteins. It also offers the advantage of being able to agroinfiltrate plant species that are not amenable for syringe infiltration such as lettuce and Arabidopsis
. Overall, the combination of syringe and vacuum agroinfiltration provides researchers and educators a simple, efficient, and robust methodology for transient protein expression. It will greatly facilitate the development of pharmaceutical proteins and promote science education.
Plant Biology, Issue 77, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Virology, Microbiology, Bioengineering, Plant Viruses, Antibodies, Monoclonal, Green Fluorescent Proteins, Plant Proteins, Recombinant Proteins, Vaccines, Synthetic, Virus-Like Particle, Gene Transfer Techniques, Gene Expression, Agroinfiltration, plant infiltration, plant-made pharmaceuticals, syringe agroinfiltration, vacuum agroinfiltration, monoclonal antibody, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, Nicotiana benthamiana, GFP, DsRed, geminiviral vectors, imaging, plant model
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part I: Lignin
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), Michigan State University (MSU).
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation1
and other products such as biocomposite materials7
. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4
. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses (matrix polysaccharides, and the polyphenol lignin6
and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls provide tensile strength to cells and the entire plants, ward off pathogens, and allow water to be transported throughout the plant; in the case of trees up to more the 100 m above ground level. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4
. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerization by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis. In this first part we focus on the analysis of the polyphenol lignin (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its lignin content by acetylbromide solubilization3
, and its lignin composition in terms of its syringyl, guaiacyl- and p-hydroxyphenyl units5
. The protocol for analyzing the carbohydrates in lignocellulosic biomass including cellulose content and matrix polysaccharide composition is discussed in Part II2
Plant Biology, Issue 37, cell walls, lignin, GC-MS, biomass, compositional analysis
Label-free in situ Imaging of Lignification in Plant Cell Walls
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Meeting growing energy demands safely and efficiently is a pressing global challenge. Therefore, research into biofuels production that seeks to find cost-effective and sustainable solutions has become a topical and critical task. Lignocellulosic biomass is poised to become the primary source of biomass for the conversion to liquid biofuels1-6
. However, the recalcitrance of these plant cell wall materials to cost-effective and efficient degradation presents a major impediment for their use in the production of biofuels and chemicals4
. In particular, lignin, a complex and irregular poly-phenylpropanoid heteropolymer, becomes problematic to the postharvest deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass. For example in biomass conversion for biofuels, it inhibits saccharification in processes aimed at producing simple sugars for fermentation7
. The effective use of plant biomass for industrial purposes is in fact largely dependent on the extent to which the plant cell wall is lignified. The removal of lignin is a costly and limiting factor8
and lignin has therefore become a key plant breeding and genetic engineering target in order to improve cell wall conversion.
Analytical tools that permit the accurate rapid characterization of lignification of plant cell walls become increasingly important for evaluating a large number of breeding populations. Extractive procedures for the isolation of native components such as lignin are inevitably destructive, bringing about significant chemical and structural modifications9-11
. Analytical chemical in situ
methods are thus invaluable tools for the compositional and structural characterization of lignocellulosic materials. Raman microscopy is a technique that relies on inelastic or Raman scattering of monochromatic light, like that from a laser, where the shift in energy of the laser photons is related to molecular vibrations and presents an intrinsic label-free molecular "fingerprint" of the sample. Raman microscopy can afford non-destructive and comparatively inexpensive measurements with minimal sample preparation, giving insights into chemical composition and molecular structure in a close to native state. Chemical imaging by confocal Raman microscopy has been previously used for the visualization of the spatial distribution of cellulose and lignin in wood cell walls12-14
. Based on these earlier results, we have recently adopted this method to compare lignification in wild type and lignin-deficient transgenic Populus trichocarpa
(black cottonwood) stem wood15
. Analyzing the lignin Raman bands16,17
in the spectral region between 1,600 and 1,700 cm-1
, lignin signal intensity and localization were mapped in situ
. Our approach visualized differences in lignin content, localization, and chemical composition. Most recently, we demonstrated Raman imaging of cell wall polymers in Arabidopsis thaliana
with lateral resolution that is sub-μm18
. Here, this method is presented affording visualization of lignin in plant cell walls and comparison of lignification in different tissues, samples or species without staining or labeling of the tissues.
Plant Biology, Issue 45, Raman microscopy, lignin, poplar wood, Arabidopsis thaliana
Environmentally Induced Heritable Changes in Flax
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Some flax varieties respond to nutrient stress by modifying their genome and these modifications can be inherited through many generations. Also associated with these genomic changes are heritable phenotypic variations 1,2
. The flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain inducible (under the control conditions), or become stably modified to either the large or small genotroph by growth under high or low nutrient conditions respectively. The lines resulting from the initial growth under each of these conditions appear to grow better when grown under the same conditions in subsequent generations, notably the Pl line grows best under the control treatment indicating that the plants growing under both the high and low nutrients are under stress. One of the genomic changes that are associated with the induction of heritable changes is the appearance of an insertion element (LIS-1) 3, 4
while the plants are growing under the nutrient stress. With respect to this insertion event, the flax variety Stormont Cirrus (Pl) when grown under three different nutrient conditions can either remain unchanged (under the control conditions), have the insertion appear in all the plants (under low nutrients) and have this transmitted to the next generation, or have the insertion (or parts of it) appear but not be transmitted through generations (under high nutrients) 4
. The frequency of the appearance of this insertion indicates that it is under positive selection, which is also consistent with the growth response in subsequent generations. Leaves or meristems harvested at various stages of growth are used for DNA and RNA isolation. The RNA is used to identify variation in expression associated with the various growth environments and/or t he presence/absence of LIS-1. The isolated DNA is used to identify those plants in which the insertion has occurred.
Plant Biology, Issue 47, Flax, genome variation, environmental stress, small RNAs, altered gene expression
High-throughput Saccharification Assay for Lignocellulosic Materials
Institutions: University of York.
Polysaccharides that make up plant lignocellulosic biomass can be broken down to produce a range of sugars that subsequently can be
used in establishing a biorefinery. These raw materials would constitute a new industrial platform, which is both sustainable and carbon neutral, to replace
the current dependency on fossil fuel. The recalcitrance to deconstruction observed in lignocellulosic materials is produced by several intrinsic properties
of plant cell walls. Crystalline cellulose is embedded in matrix polysaccharides such as xylans and arabinoxylans, and the whole structure is encased by the
phenolic polymer lignin, that is also difficult to digest 1
. In order to improve the digestibility of plant materials we need to discover the main bottlenecks
for the saccharification of cell walls and also screen mutant and breeding populations to evaluate the variability in saccharification 2
. These tasks require
a high throughput approach and here we present an analytical platform that can perform saccharification analysis in a 96-well plate format. This platform has
been developed to allow the screening of lignocellulose digestibility of large populations from varied plant species. We have scaled down the reaction volumes
for gentle pretreatment, partial enzymatic hydrolysis and sugar determination, to allow large numbers to be assessed rapidly in an automated system.
This automated platform works with milligram amounts of biomass, performing ball milling under controlled conditions to reduce the plant
materials to a standardised particle size in a reproducible manner. Once the samples are ground, the automated formatting robot dispenses specified and recorded
amounts of material into the corresponding wells of 96 deep well plate (Figure 1). Normally, we dispense the same material into 4 wells to have 4 replicates for
analysis. Once the plates are filled with the plant material in the desired layout, they are manually moved to a liquid handling station (Figure 2). In this
station the samples are subjected to a mild pretreatment with either dilute acid or alkaline and incubated at temperatures of up to 90°C. The pretreatment solution
is subsequently removed and the samples are rinsed with buffer to return them to a suitable pH for hydrolysis. The samples are then incubated with an enzyme
mixture for a variable length of time at 50°C. An aliquot is taken from the hydrolyzate and the reducing sugars are automatically determined by the MBTH
Molecular Biology, Issue 53, Saccharification, lignocellulose, high-throughput, glycosyl hydrolases, biomass, biofuels
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris
or Trichoderma reesei
, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations.
GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger
, Cochliobolus carbonum
, and Galerina marginata
), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris
, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei
. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (www.megazyme.com), NZYTech (www.nzytech.com), and PROZOMIX (www.prozomix.com).
Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid.
All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei
: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Testing Nicotine Tolerance in Aphids Using an Artificial Diet Experiment
Institutions: Cornell University.
Plants may upregulate the production of many different seconday metabolites in response to insect feeding. One of these metabolites, nicotine, is well know to have insecticidal properties. One response of tobacco plants to herbivory, or being gnawed upon by insects, is to increase the production of this neurotoxic alkaloid. Here, we will demonstrate how to set up an experiment to address this question of whether a tobacco-adapted strain of the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, can tolerate higher levels of nicotine than the a strain of this insect that does not infest tobacco in the field.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Nicotine, Aphids, Plant Feeding Resistance, Tobacco
Choice and No-Choice Assays for Testing the Resistance of A. thaliana to Chewing Insects
Institutions: Cornell University.
Larvae of the small white cabbage butterfly are a pest in agricultural settings. This caterpillar species feeds from plants in the cabbage family, which include many crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc. Rearing of the insects takes place on cabbage plants in the greenhouse. At least two cages are needed for the rearing of Pieris rapae. One for the larvae and the other to contain the adults, the butterflies. In order to investigate the role of plant hormones and toxic plant chemicals in resistance to this insect pest, we demonstrate two experiments. First, determination of the role of jasmonic acid (JA - a plant hormone often indicated in resistance to insects) in resistance to the chewing insect Pieris rapae. Caterpillar growth can be compared on wild-type and mutant plants impaired in production of JA. This experiment is considered "No Choice", because larvae are forced to subsist on a single plant which synthesizes or is deficient in JA. Second, we demonstrate an experiment that investigates the role of glucosinolates, which are used as oviposition (egg-laying) signals. Here, we use WT and mutant Arabidopsis impaired in glucosinolate production in a "Choice" experiment in which female butterflies are allowed to choose to lay their eggs on plants of either genotype. This video demonstrates the experimental setup for both assays as well as representative results.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Plant Resistance, Herbivory, Arabidopsis thaliana, Pieris rapae, Caterpillars, Butterflies, Jasmonic Acid, Glucosinolates
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity